In Flight: London, 5 a.m.

Streets bare of anything but the orange glow of emergency lighting. Stretched black shadows of key workers (coffee shops, fast food joints) waiting thin and angular at bus-stops. Miles of normally pounded pavement getting a brief respite save for the endlessly-walking homeless and solitary drunks, wearing spirals and curlicues into its surface.

London at 5 a.m. is a different city.

Flowers in the dark

Streets bare of anything but the orange glow of emergency lighting. Stretched black shadows of key workers (coffee shops, fast food joints) waiting thin and angular at bus-stops. Miles of normally pounded pavement getting a brief respite save for the endlessly-walking homeless and solitary drunks, wearing spirals and curlicues into its surface.

London at 5 a.m. is a different city.

It’s a city that’s perfectly balanced in transition. They say a modern city never sleeps. While that might be true of cabbies, who are probably the unhappy few saying that, 5 a.m. is definitely the time at which London settles in its restless insomnia, in which it shuts its eyelids and lets the cleaning fluids have a few seconds of desperate reparation.

The driver of my blacked-out van doesn’t proffer a name. He’s young, Machinist-thin, with uncut brown hair long at temples and back, a growth of stubble that might be called a moustache, but looks more like a receding away of flesh than an outreaching of hair. He is utterly silent as we drive over the flyovers between the aggressively-huddled towers of Westway. The radio blares utterly generic Capital music, insomniacs calling into say that, yes, they can’t sleep either, and that while they stare dry-eyed at the ceiling, the knowledge that someone else is up and awake and communicatible, that someone else suffers as they do, is a tacit comfort, .

There is no talk of dawn yet. The sky is the blue-grey of powdered gypsum as we drive, out over the wastes of Westfield. The air in the van smells of soap and sweet and something more sickly and unwelcome. I think it might be me.

Beneath the van, the tarmac roars endlessly. A soft thump-thump-thump talks of roadworks and Britain’s ad-hoc attitude to pipe-laying. Where in Islington and Kings Cross the workers were awake at the Greengrocer, the Fishmongers, the unhallowed platforms of the station-cathedrals, here the suburbs are still asleep. Only toilet windows betray the dark, talking nervously of nightlights and scared children. A solitary petrol station attendant yawns his way towards the shift’s end without the expected armed robbery.

As we head to the quarter hour, I’ve crossed the whole city and my diver has taken some abstruse private route to the airport, whipping me through Acton, seemingly still dead since the Martians passed through. The radio plays generic-o-pop, mingling electronic high tones with multi-tracked balanced singers and trance beats. Still this town sleeps. One optimistic man trudges up the station steps to join a waiting, confused cluster. In the supermarkets, the lights are on, pumping out power to save on security guards.

My skin is sore and dry from so little sleep and perhaps from the light of the laptop. As we pass Chiswick, my hands ache and ache. I rub them together and they make a noise like sheets of paper hissing across each other. The other vehicles around at this time all seem to be dark and polarised like me, with dim figures sat in the back. 5 a.m. is for cabbies it seems. Even at this time of the morning, empty roads, an idiot still feels the imperative to aggressively cut-up the other cars. Whence a rush at this dead time, in this dead city?

At Brentford / Hammersmith, the tower blocks are lit. This is Monday, 5.20 and there are already tie-clad workers sitting, male and unmoving, in the windows of the tower blocks we fly by, already giving up their lives to the sucking screens. A gust of steam sits above the Glaxo building frozen like a cloud.

The gray is clocking out now, turning the shift over more fully to the blue, which is hazily pulling itself together under gray’s stern tutelage. We are on the M4 now and the roadside signs, which once pointed to far-off Bath and Winchester and other pilgrim routes, now advertise Heston services, with runic incantations telling us that the great demon M&S BK COSTA may be summoned here. We pass our first breakdown of the morning, slowly being winched onto a ponderously-flashing truck.

Off the motorway, down past prefabs and roundabouts. This no-man’s land holds caravan parks and fields. Sleeping truckers grumble and mutter in their parkway lay-bys, thousands of miles from home, ten feet from a real suburban bed. Dark ponies and horses are foraging on the fields opposite the trucks and the semi-detached houses.

We pause at lights. My lips are dry, and my face cracks a yawn. My driver strokes the fluff abandoned by the receding of his flesh and sucks his lips. His suit looks thin and cheap and I wonder how he keeps warm. Billboards float by, then more ponies, their heads down amidst cherry blossom and graffitoed sheds and long car parks filled with identical cars, any colour so long as it’s not fun. On the right, a pointy-nosed private jet dreams of growing into another Concorde beneath a WWII derrick hosting a radar dish.

A squeeze between two affectionate bollards and we’re here. The Terminal. Plastic and metal and concrete and barbed wire and endlessly routed paths and instructions everywhere. We stop and smile goodbye. He wishes me a good trip; I wish him a good day. Inside, I doubt day will suit him.

I Won A Book!

http://londonist.com/2008/12/prizewinning_medical_trivia.php

Congratulations to Dan Griliopoulos, winner of our Medical London competition. We asked for a piece of trivia connected with medicine in London, and Dan provided this:

“The premier London medical story has to be that of Samuel Pepys’ stone. Not the actual operation – which was long and painful (without anaesthetic) or highly dangerous (without modern medical techniques they had to cut up through the perineum to actually reach the kidneys where the stones were forming) – but his later love for the tennis ball-sized lump of crystalline urine. He’d carry it in his pocket everywhere, show it to friends, and once considered spending 24s (a hefty sum) on a display case so he could show it off in his house. He also had yearly dinners to show his appreciation at surviving, where guests would drink and eat themselves into an absolute stupor, pretty much guaranteeing that they too would end up with similar kidney problems to his…”
So a copy of the much-praised tome Medical London is on the way to him.

NOTICE To Shop Assistants


Old Warning, originally uploaded by Hot Grill.


NOTICE

To Shop Assistants

STORE MUST OPEN PROMPTLY
at 6.00 a.m. until 9.00 p.m. all the year round.


STORE must be swept, counter, base shelves and showcases dusted. Lamps trimmed, filled and chimney cleaned, pens made, door and windows opened.

A PAIL of water and scuttle of coal must be brought in by each clerk before breakfast, if there is time to do so and attend customers who call.

Any employee who is the habit of
SMOKING SPANISH CIGARS,
GETTING SHAVED AT A BARBER’S SHOP,
GOING TO DANCES, AND OTHER SUCH PLACES OF AMUSEMENT.

will surely give his employer reason to be suspicious of his INTEGRITY and alround HONESTY

Each employee must pay not less than ONE GUINEA per year to the Church and attend Sunday School every Sunday.

MEN are given one evening a week for courting purposes and two if they go to prayer meetings regularly.

After 14 hours works, spare time should be devoted to reading good literature.

1854

Islington F**k Club

The panelling was quite obviously laid by Jackson Pollock, seemingly randomly accreted in different corners and heights around the oddly columned room that some aspiring architect with a sledgehammer has carved out above the Horseshoe pub in Farringdon. The people were odder still, a collection of people who look like they’d fought tramps for their clothing and lost. (In a nice way. Folk people do everything nicely). The manner that some seemingly random person in the crowd would be called up onto stage, to then sing an amazing song, even gave the place a missionary air.

I’d told my friends I was going to see Martin Carthy, at the Islington Folk Club, but my mumbling had rendered it as the F**k Club, confusing them somewhat about my proclivities; just to emphasise, yes, I like sex, but I’m not the King of the Swingers. Sorry, yes, I was there to see Martin Carthy, father of the British folk scene (though he’s getting into grandfather territory these days) and expected him to come on soon after the 7.30 start, but there are no rules about Folk Club. That was evinced by the opening.

First, the Angel Band warmed up. They’re a good group of mainly squeezebox players (they had a hurdy-gurdy, which I’d never seen before!) So far, so NFF (Normal For Folk). Then some thin guy at the front started ranting in rhyme, and all the people behind me started singing a kind of slave chorus alongside with him, which was disturbing to say the least. It turned out the madman was the compère, as evinced by him next shouting “and, as always, the Singing Doorman” at which point the oddly dressed buttoned-up psychopath type by the door starts singing with the voice of an angel and the filthy, florid mind of a Vaudevillian.

Then it turns into a church meeting, with the thin madman ruffling the crisp monochrome of his floral silk shirt with every James Brown expostulation, calling on all and sundry to come up, a woman called Rosie, a webmaster who sang a sweet song about a wife running away with the hairies and the hippies (which I reproduce below), lonely cowboy Stanford Stan (or summat), another woman called Rosie, and, only after nearly everybody else in the room had sung, Martin Carthy stopped his supping and started playing – great as always, though he stumbled over his fingers a little.

What always amazes me about traditional folk music, as recovered and recorded by Mr Carthy, is how bleak it is. It’s full of murder, death, suicide and incest, an endless angry roar against the injustice of the world. Tonight I heard that King Willy found his mum had bewitched his lady love, so she was nearly dead and unable to give birth, poachers were deported to the colonies for 14 years hard labour, and father-of-six Georgy got sentenced to death for an unnamed crime. The only positive bit is where the impoverished and undertrodden rise up and murder some authority, an aristo or landowner, or buck some law, as in The Devil and The Feathered Wife, where the devil is foiled in his plot to claim the soul of a henpecked farmer by a wise wife who rolls in cowshit and feathers to fool him into thinking she’s some fabulous animal. Dumb Devil, but the rural heroes buck authority to keep living in squalor. Woo.

Oh, yes, I came back and found Toby still playing Guitar Hero II at fantastic speeds on expert and was only released from my rabbit-like hypnosis by Vicky staggering in AMAZINGLY DRUNK. I can’t believe she was upright. She was like one of those drunks you see in movies or comedy shows, where the brain is completely gone but they’re still upright and teetering. Anyway, here’s the lyrics to the hippies and the hairies, taken from here. It’s not quite what the feller sang tonight (he swapped freezer-o with stere-o) but it gives you the gist of modern folk, ye naysayers, ye harlots of the guitar and the drum.

HIPPIES AND THE HAIRIES

It was late one night Mr. Jones came home
On the nine forty-seven from Euston O
He was big, he was fat and he wore a bowler hat
And he hated the hippies and the hairies O

As he stopped before his mock Tudor door
He called to his wife I am home dear O
The train was delayed, I’m late I’m afraid
Must have been the hippies and the hairies O

As he stepped inside a note he espied
The au-pair came to greet him O
Saying Madam is not here she has gone I fear
She has gone with the hippies and the hairies O

Go prepare for me the MGB GT
The Roller’s not so speedy O
And I shall drive ’till I find her alive
Or dead with the hippies and the hairies O

So he rode North and he rode South
‘Till he came to a field near Knebworth O
And there she did stand with a joint in her hand
Getting into Harper with the hairies O

What makes you leave your house and car
Your Habitat kitchen and your freezer O
And the children three, not to mention me
And go with the hippies and the hairies O

Oh what care I for my house and car
My Habitat kitchen and my freezer O
A fuse I’ve primed and the whole thing’s timed
To explode in the middle of the Jimmy Young show

So now I’m free of the Bourgeoisie
And the cosmic twits at the golf club O
So Chorleywood you can stuff for good
I’m spaced with the hippies and the hairies O

360 Hangovers

My face feels like it’s stuck to the pillow, and there’s a ringing in my ears that isn’t just the alarm. I vaguely remember dreaming about fighting a knight in a train, then eating some chokeberries. I drag my head up and the instant headache and scummy mouth is so repugnant, I assume I must have been drinking. I check my pockets and am nicely surprised; a wodge of cash is still there, there’s no outrageous taxi receipts, no ludicrously priced bills for London cocktails or ladies of the night (slightly cheaper than the cocktails, I hear). Thinking some PR must have been buying the drinks, I stumble into the living room, and the TV’s on. A familiar theme tune bangs out, with Patrick Stewart intoning over the top. Everything clears up. Playing Oblivion ’til three again? On a work night? I wish I’d been out drinking…

I shouldn’t be playing this game this much. I know off by heart the locations of every shop in every city, have run over the map for hours on end, just for kicks and yet, a couple of hundred hours in, I’ve still not completed half the quests, am nowhere near completing the main quest and have only just stopped being a vampire (thanks to the Vile Lair download pack). I’ve not only stopped doing the quests, I’ve started making up my own. Taking pictures of the flowers, seeing how high I can get my bounty, making the largest pile of naked dead people in a city square, and endlessly just exploring dungeons, just to see what’s in there. Oh and lots of running away. I speak to the members of the Thieve’s Guild more than I do my family (but, then, my family aren’t so hot at laundering goods.) I’ve wondered about checking into that clinic in Amsterdam to see if I can cure my addiction.

I recognise now that unless I complete all the quests, I’m never going to be able to let this game go. So, thanks to suggestions from friends, I’m now rebuilding my life around getting the game finished. I now do sit-ups whilst watching the screen, nap at work in my lunch-hour to recoup those precious minutes for later play, and have set up a credits system, where an hour of cooking, cleaning or eating bags me an hour fighting gobbos. I’m even aiming to take up smoking when the quests end just so I’ve got a secondary addiction to take over. The only cloud on the horizon is Bethesda; they insist on realising new, addictive downloads every fricking fortnight, and won’t promise me that they’ll stop doing it because they’re making a nice profit out of me.